How to Prepare Financially for a Natural Disaster

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Rob Rumley, asst. vp and financial advisor at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Atlanta
Rob Rumley, Asst. VP and financial advisor at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Atlanta

My family and I recently spent a week in coastal South Carolina and for three of those days we were joined by tropical storm Andrea. In fact, the last time I vacationed there, Hurricane Katrina hit. Needless to say my family and I spent some quality time indoors putting puzzles together and playing games. Fortunately, we were safe in our hotel.

Hurricane season began on June 1st and should end in November. While many prepare for natural disasters by stocking up on necessities like water, canned goods and batteries, the process of getting finances in order tends to get overlooked during this time. Regardless of your annual income or assets, financial preparedness is critical to resuming daily life following a storm.

Over the years a few of my clients have been affected by natural disasters. Here is what I’ve learned:

• Keep important documents in ‘The Cloud.’ Keep track of your account numbers, user IDs, passwords, and important insurance documents by securely storing them — electronically online — in the cloud. Many people leave these ID and passwords on their desk. If you ever need to evacuate it’s important to have a copy of this information to be able to access all of your financial data. Online banking also enables you to pay bills and manage your accounts, should you be away from your home longer than expected.

• Keep 3-5 days of cash with you on hand. In the event that you experience power outage in your area, ATMs may be depleted or not working at all. Store this money in a safe place until it is needed.

• Don’t delay. Be sure not to hesitate in reaching out to your insurance company immediately. Depending on the severity of the storm or fire, it is possible that there may be people in the area who are ready to help concerned customers.

Others facing natural disasters—such as hurricanes, tornados, brush fires and earthquakes—are not so lucky. During the first week of May, many areas in Southern California experienced some devastating threats from brush fire. We were happy to assist our California clients who reached out to confirm their passwords and inform the team of their location. Though they were inconvenienced by an evacuation, they were quite thankful to be safe and sound.

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